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THE PROJECT METHOD 

The Use of the Purposeful Act ■JNi'-./ 
in the Educative Process *...•/.; ••;••.•.-...' 

By 

William Heard Kilpatrick 

Professor of Educadon, Teachers College 
Columbia University 



Eleventh Impression 
March, iQ2g 



Published by 

Veadietji College, Columbia fHniberKttp 

525 West 130th Street 
New York City 



Copyright 1918, by Tbachbks Collbgb, Columbu Umiybrsitt 



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THE PROJECT METHOD » 

The word 'project' is perhaps the latest arrival to knock for 
admittance at the door of educational terminology. Shall we 
admit the stranger? Not wisely unless two preliminary questions 
have first been answered in the affirmative: First, is there behind 
the proposed term and waiting even now to be christened a valid 
notion or concept which promises to render appreciable service 
in educational thinking? Second, if we grant the foregoing, does 
the term 'project' fitly designate the waiting concept? Because 
the question as to the concept and its worth is so much more sig- 
nificant than any matter of mere names, this discussion will deal 
almost exclusively with the first of the two inquiries. It is indeed 
entirely possible that some other term, as 'purposeful act', for 
example, would call attention to a more important element in the 
concept, and, if so, might prove superior as a term to the word 
'project'. At the outset it is probably ^ise to caution the reader 
against expecting any great amount of novelty in the idea here 
presented. The metaphor of christening is not to be taken too 
seriously; the concept to be considered is not in fact newly bom. 
Not a few readers will be disappointed that after all so little new 
is presented. 

A little of the personal may perhaps serve to introduce the 
more formal discussion. In attacking with successive classes in 
educational theory the problem of method, I had felt increasingly 
the need of unifying more completely a number of important 
related aspects of the educative process. I began to hope for 
some one concept which might serve this end. Sucha^concept, if 
found, must, so I thought, emphasize the factor of (fiction,^ prefer- 
ably wholehearted vigorous activity. It must at the same time 
provide a place for the adequate utilization of thejia^s of learn- 
ing, and no less for the essential elements of the^ethicar quality 
of conduct. The last named looks of course to the social situ- 
ation as well as to the individual attitude. Along with these 
should go, as it seemed, the important generalization that edu- 

1 Reprinted from Tbachbxs Collbgb Rbcord, Vol. XIX, No. 4 (September, 1918). Copyright 
191 8. 



\X^ 









• •• .4 '. • : ti^fc:A;cHERs college bulletin 

/• • • • 

. ": • ca:kiQn-is:Ufe^~^ ^y to say and so hard to delimit. Could noi 
;.-.: :*in*©f»th€Sfe'be contemplated under one workable notion? If ye« 
a great gain. In proportion as such a unifying concept could b 
found, in like proportion would the work of presenting educations 
theory be facilitated; in the same proportion should be the rapi< 
spread of a better practice. 

But could this unifying idea be found? Here was in fact the age 
old problem of effective logical organization. My whole philosophi 
outlook had made me suspicious of so-called 'fundamental principles' 
Was there yet another way of attaining unity? I do not mean t< 
say that I asked these questions, either in these words or in thi 
order. Rather is this a retrospective ordering of the more importan 
outcomes. As the desired unification lay specifically in the fieU 
of method, might not some typical unit of concrete procedure suppl] 

0-r- Ae need— ^me unit of conduct that should be, as it were(a samph 
(of life^a fair sample ofthe worthy lifeand consequently of education! 
As^tkese questionings rose more definitely to mind, there cam< 
increasingly a belief — corroborated on many sides — ^that the unifying 
idea I sought was to be found in the conception of wholehearted 
purposeful activity proceeding in a social environment, or more 
briefly, in the unit element of such activity, the hearty purposeful 

;, act. 

It is to this purposeful act with the emphasis on the word purpose 
that I myself apply the term 'project'. I did not invent the term 
nor did I start it on its educational career. Indeed, I do not know 
how long it had already been in use. I did, however, consciously 
appropriate the word to designate to myself and for my classes the 
typical unit of the worthy life described above. Others who were 
using the term seemed to me either to use it in a mechanical and 
partial sense or to be intending in a general way what I tried to 
define more exactly. The purpose of this article is to attempt to 
clarify the concept underlying the term as much as it is to defend the 
claim of the concept to a place in our educational thinking. The 
actual terminology with which to designate the concept is, as was 
said before, to my mind a matter of relatively small moment. If, 
however, we think of a project as a pro-ject, something pro-jected, 

I I the reason for adopting the term may better appear. 

Postponing yet a little further the more systematic presenta- 
tion of the matter, let us from some typical instances see more 



THE PROJECT METHOD 5 

concretely what is contemplated under the term project or hearty 
purposeful act. Suppose a girl has made a dress. If she did in 
hearty fashion purpose to make the dress, if she planned it, if 
she made it herself, then I should say the instance is that of a 
typical project. We have in it a wholehearted purposeful act carried 
on amid social surroundings. That the dressmaking was pur- 
poseful is clear; and the purpose once formed dominated each suc- 
ceeding step in the process and gave unity to the whole. That the 
girl was wholehearted in the work was assured in the illustration. 
That the activity proceeded in a social environment is clear; 
other girls at least are to see the dress. As another instance, sup- 
pose a boy undertakes to get out a school newspaper. If he is in 
earnest about it, we again have an effective purpose as the essence of 
a project. So we may instance a pupil writing a letter (if the hearty 
purpose is present), a child listening absorbedly to a story, Newton 
explaining the motion of the moon on the principles of terrestrial 
dynamics, Demosthenes trying to arouse the Greeks against Philip, 
Da Vinci painting the Last Supper, my writing this article, a boy 
solving with felt purpose an 'original* in geometry. All of the fore- 
going have been acts of individual purposing, but there are just as 
truly group projects: a class presents a play, a group of boys organ- 
ize a baseball nine, three pupils prepare to read a story to their 
comrades. It is clear then that projects may present every variety 
that purposes present in life. It is also clear that a mere description 
of outwardly observable facts might not disclose the essential factor, 
namely the presence of a dominating purpose. It is equally true 
that there can be every degree of approximation to full projects 

, according as the animating purpose varies in clearness and strength. 

I If we conceive activities as ranging on a scale from those performed 

under dire compulsion up to those into which one puts his 'whole ^ 
heart', the argument herein made restricts the term 'project' or 
purposeful act to the upper portions of the scale. An exact dividing 
line is hard to draw, and yields indeed in importance to the notion 
that psychological value increases with the degree of approximation 
to 'wholeheartedness'. As to the social environment element, some 

j may feel that, however important this is to the fullest educative 
experience, it is still not essential to the conception of the purposeful 

J act as here presented. These might, therefore, wish to leave this 
element out of the defining discussion. To this I should not object 



6 TEACHERS COLLEGE BULLETIN 

if it were clearly understood that the resulting concept — now essen* 
tially psychological in character — demands, generally speaking, the 
social situation both for its practical working and for the compara- 
tive valuation of proffered projects. 
\j' With this general introduction, we may, in the first place, say 
that the purposeful act is the typical unit of the worthy life. Not 
that all purposes are good, but that the worthy Jife consists of pur- 
posiyejtctiyityjmdjiot^i^ drifting. We scorn the man who pas- 
sively accepts what *fate* or merechance brings to him. We admire 
the man who is master of his fate, who with deliberate regard for a 
total situation forms clear and far-reaching purposes, who plans 
and executes with nice care the purposes so formed. A man who 
habitually so regulsites his life with reference to worthy social aims 
meets at once the demands for practical efficiency and of moral 
responsibility. Such a one presents the ideal of democratic citizen- 
ship. It is equally true that the purposeful act is not the unit of 
life for the serf or the slave. These poor unfortunates must in the 
interest of the overmastering system be habituated to act with a 
minimum of their own purposing and with a maximum of servile 
acceptance of others' purposes. In important matters they merely 
follow plans handed down to them from above, and execute these 
according to prescribed directions. For them another carries respon- 
sibility and upon the results of their labor another passes judgment. 
No such plan as that here advocated would produce the kind of 
docility required for their hopeless fate. But it is a democracy which 
we contemplate and with which we are here concerned 
As the purposeful act is thus the typical unit of the worthy life in 
) a democratic society, so also should it be made the typical unit 

of school procedure. We of America have for years increasingly 
desired that education be considered as life itself and not as a 
mere preparation for later living. The conception before us prom- 
ises a definite step toward the attainment of this end. If the 
purposeful ^ct be in reality the typical unit of the worthy life, 
then it follows that to base education on purposeful acts is exactly 
i to identify the process of education with worthy living itself. The 
two become then the same. All the arguments for placing education 
on a life basis seem, to me at any rate, to concur in support of this 
thesis. On this basis education has become life. And if the pur- 
poseful act thus makes of education life itself, could we reasoning in 



THE PROJECT METHOD 7 

advance expect to find a better preparation for later life than practice 
in living now? We have heard of old that "we learn to do by doing," 
and much wisdom resides in the saying. If the worthy life of the 
coming day is to consist of well-chosen purposeful acts, what 
preparation for that time could promise more than practice now, 
under discriminating guidance, in forming and executing worthy 
purposes? To this end must the child have within rather large 
limits the opportunity to purpose. For the issues of his act he must 
— ^in like limits — be held accountable. That the child may properly 
progress, the total situation — ^all the factors of life, including com- 
rades — speaking, if need be through the teacher, must make clear 
its selective judgment upon what is done, approving the better, 
rejecting the worse. In a true sense the whole remaining discussion 
is but to support the contention here argued in advance that edu- 
cation based on the purposeful act prepares best for life while at the 
same time it constitutes the present worthy life itself. 

A more explicit reason for making the purposeful act the typical 
unit of instruction is found in the utilization of the laws of learning 
which this plan affords. I am assuming that it is not necessary 
in this paper to justify or even explain at length these laws.' Any 
act of conduct consists of a response to the existing situation. 
That response in preference to any other followed the given situa- 
tion because there existed in the nervous system a bond or connec- 
tion joining the stimulus of that situation with that response. Some 
such bonds come with us into the world, as, for example, the infant 
cries (responds) when he is very hungry (situation acting as stimu- 
lus). Other bonds are acquired, as when the hungry child later asks 
in words for food. The process of acquiring or otherwise changing 
bonds we call learning. The careful statements of the conditions 
under which bonds are built or changed are the laws of learning. 
Bonds are not always equally ready to act: when I am angry, the 
bonds that have to do with smiling are distinctly unready; other 
bonds controlling uglier behavior are quite ready. When a bond is 
ready to act, to act gives satisfaction and not to act gives annoyance. 
When a bond is not ready to act, to act gives annoyance and not to 
act gives satisfaction. These two statements constitute the law of 
Readiness. The law that most concerns us in this discussion is that 

s The diacuiilon which here f oUowi la adapted from Thomdilce't Bducotional Psychology, Vol. 
II* PP* t't6. 



8 TEACHERS COLLEGE BULLETIN 

of Effect: when a modifiable bond acts, it is strengthened or weak- 
ened according as satisfaction or annoyance results. The ordinary 
psychology of common observation has not been so conscious of 
these two laws as it has of the third law, that of Exercise; but for our 
present purposes, repetition simply means the continued application 
of the law of Effect.* There are yet other laws necessary for a full 
explanation of the facts of learning. Our available space allows for 
only one more, that of 'set* or attitude, the others we have to assume 
without explicit reference. When a person is very angry, he is some- 
times colloquially said to be "mad all over." Such a phrase implies 
that many bonds are ready to act conjointly to an end, in this case, 
the end of overcoming or doing damage to the object of anger. 
Under such conditions there is (a) available and at work a stock 
of energy for attaining the end, (b) a state of readiness in the 
bonds pertaining to the activity at hand, and (c) a correlative 
unreadiness on the part of the bonds that might thwart the attain- 
ment of the end contemplated by the *set.' The reader is asked to 
note (a) how a 'set' towards an end means readiness in and action 
of pertinent bonds with reference to that end, (6) how this end de- 
fines success, (c) how readiness in the bonds means satisfaction 
when success is attained, and (d) how satisfaction strengthens the 
bonds whose action brought success. These facts fit well with 
the generalization that man's mental powers and capacities came 
into being in connection with the continual attaining of ends 
demanded by the life of the organism. The capacity for 'set* 
means in the case of man the capacity for persistent and directed 
action. Such action means for our discussion not only that (objec- 
tive) success is more likely to result, but that learning inheres in the 
process. The bonds whose action brought success are by the result- 
ing satisfaction more firmly fixed, both as distinct bonds separately 
considered and as a system of bonds working together under the 
'set'. Set, readiness, persistent action, success, satisfaction, and 
learning are inherently connected. 

How then does the purposeful act utilize the laws of learning? 
A boy is intent upon making a kite that will fly. Hitherto he has 
not succeeded. His purpose is clear. This purpose is but the 
'set' consciously and volitionally bent on its end. As set the pur- 

* The law of Bxerdae does of coune indude more than this, at the niooeHf ul educator must know 
if he would meet all lituationf . 






THE PROJECT METHOD 9 

pose is the inner urge that carries the boy on in the face of hin- 
drance and difficulty. It brings 'readiness' to pertinent inner 
resources of knowledge and thought. Eye and hand are made 
alert. The purpose acting as aim guides the boy's thinking, directs 
his examination of plan and material, elicits from within appropri- 
ate suggestions, and tests these several suggestions by their perti- 
nency to the end in view. The purpose in that it contemplates a 
specific end defines success: the kite must fly or he has failed. The 
progressive attaining of success with reference to subordinate aims 
brings satisfaction at the successive stages of completion. Satisfac- 
tion in detail and in respect of the whole by the automatic working 
of the second law of learning (Effect) fixes the several bonds which 
by their successive successes brought the finally successful kite. 
The purpose thus supplies the motive power, makes available inner 
resources, guides the process to its preconceived end, and by this 
satisfying success fixes in the boy's mind and character the successful 
steps as part and parcel of one whole. The purposeful act does uti- 
lize the laws of learning. 

But this account does not yet exhaust the influence of the purpose 
on the resulting learning. Suppose as extreme cases two boys mak- 
ing kites, the one with wholeheartedness of purpose, as we have just 
described, the other under direct compulsion as a most unwelcome 
task. For simplicity's sake suppose the latter under enforced direc- 
tions makes a kite identical with the other. The steps that in either 
case actually produced the kite let us call the primary responses for 
that case. Evidently these will, in the two cases, in part agree, 
and in part differ. The respects in which they agree furnish the kind 
of responses that we can and customarily do assign as tasks — the 
external irreducible minimum for the matter at hand. Upon such 
we can feasibly insist, even to the point of punishment if we do so 
decide. Additional to the primary responses which produced the 
respective kites, there will be yet other responses that accompany 
the kitemaking, not so much by way of outward doing as of inward 
thought and feeling. These additional responses may be divided 
into associate and concomitant responses. By associate responses we 
refer to those thoughts which are suggested in rather close connec- 
tion with the primary responses and with the materials used and the 



lO TEACHERS COLLEGE BULLETIN 

ends sought.^ By the term concomitant reference is made to certain 
responses yet a little further off from the immediate operation of 
kitemaking, which result ultimately in attitudes and generalizations. 
It is in this way that such attitudes are produced as self-respect or 
the contrary, and such relatively abstract ideals as accuracy or 
neatness. These words, primary, associate, and concomitant, will 
be used as well of the resulting learning as of the responses that 
bring the learning. The terminology is not entirely happy, and ex- 
act lines of division are not easy to draw; but the distinctions may 
perhaps help us to see a further function of purpose. 

As for the primary responses we need do little more than recall 
the discussion of the immediately preceding paragraphs. The 
factor of 'set' conditions the learning process. A strong set acting 
through the satisfaction which attends success fixes quickly and 
strongly the bonds which brought success. In the case of coercion, 
however, a different state of affairs holds. There are in effect two 
sets operating: one set, kept in existence solely through coercion, 
is concerned to make a kite that will pass muster; the other set has 
a different end and would pursue a different course were the coercion 
removed. Each set in so far as it actually exists means a possible 
satisfaction and in that degree a possible learning. But the two sets, 
being opposed, mean at times a confusion as to the object of success; 
and in every case each set destroys a part of the other's satisfaction 
and so hampers the primary learning. Moreover, for the whole- 
hearted act the several steps of the primary responses are welded 
together, as it were, at the forge of conscious purpose, and so have 
not only a stronger connection of part with part but greater flexi- 
bility of the whole to thought. So far then as concerns even the 
barest mechanics of kitemaking, the boy of wholehearted purpose 
will emerge with a higher degree of skill and knowledge and his 
learning will longer abide with him. 

In the case of the associate responses, the difference is equally 
noticeable. The unified set of wholeheartedness will render avail- 
able all the pertinent connected inner resources. A wealth of mar- 
ginal responses will be ready to come forward at every opportunity. 
Thoughts will be turned over and over, and each step will be con- 
nected in many ways with other experiences. Alluring leads in 

< The term accessory was used in the original article where the word associate is now used 
with a slight difference of meaning, however. 



THE PROJECT METHOD II 

various allied directions will open before the boy, which only the 
dominant present purpose could suffice to postpone. The element 
of satisfaction will attend connections seen, so that the complex of 
allied thinking will the longer remain as a mental possession. All of 
this is exactly not so with the other boy. The forbidden *set', so 
long as it persists, will pretty effectually quench the glow of thought. 
Unreadiness will rather characterize his attitude. Responses ac- 
cessory to the work at hand will be few in number, and the few 
that come will lack the element of satisfaction to fix them. Where 
the one boy has a wealth of associated ideas, the other has poverty. 
What abides with the one, is fleeting with the other. Even more pro- 
nounced is the difference in the by-products or concomitants from 
these contrasted activities. The one boy looks upon his school 
activity with joy and confidence and plans yet other projects; the 
other counts his school a bore and begins to look elsewhere for the 
expression there denied. To the one the teacher is a friend and com- 
rade; to the other, a taskmaster and enemy. The one easily feels 
himself on the side of the school and other social agencies, the other 
with equal ease considers them all instruments of suppression. Fur- 
thermore, under the allied readiness which follows purpose, atten- 
tion is more easily led to helpful generalizations of method and to 
such ideals as exactness or fairness. Desirable concomitants are 
more likely with the hearty purposeful act. 

The contrasts here made are consciously of extremes. Most 
children live between the two. The question is whether we shall 
not consciously put before us as an ideal the one type of activity 
and approximate it as closely as we can rather than supinely 
rest content to live as close to the other type as do the general 
run of our American schools. Does not the ordinary school among 
us put its almost exclusive attention on the primary responses and 
the learning of these in the second fashion here described? Do we 
not too often reduce the subject matter of instruction to the level 
of this type alone? Does not our examination system — even our 
scientific tests at times — tend to carry us in the same direction? 
How many children at the close of a course decisively shut the book 
and say, ** Thank gracious, I am through with that!" How many 
people 'get an education' and yet hate books and hate to think? 

The thought suggested at the close of the preceding paragraph 
may be generalized into a criterion more widely applicable. The 



12 TEACHERS COLLEGE BULLETIN 

richness of life is seen upon reflection to depend, in large measure 
at least, upon the tendency of what one does to suggest and prepare 
for succeeding activities. Any activity — beyond the barest physical 
want — ^which does not thus 'lead on' becomes in time stale and flat. 
Such 'leading on' means that the individual has been modified so 
that he sees what before he did not see or does what before he could 
not do. But this is exactly to say that the activity has had an educa- 
tive effect. Not to elaborate the argument, we may assert that the 
richness of life depends exactly on its tendency to lead one on to 
other like fruitful activity; that the degree of this tendency consists 
exactly in the educative effect of the activity involved; and that we 
may therefore take as the criterion of the value of any activity — 
whether intentionally educative or not — ^its tendency directly or in- 
directly to lead the individual and others whom he touches on to 
other like fruitful activity. If we apply this criterion to the common 
run of American schools we find exactly the discouraging results in- 
dicated above. It is the thesis of this paper that these evil results 
must inevitably follow the effort to found our educational procedure 
on an unending round of set tasks in conscious disregard of the 
element of dominant purpose in those who perform the tasks. This 
again is not to say that every purpose is good nor that the child is a 
suitable judge as between purposes nor that he is never to be forced 
to act against a purpose which he entertains. We contemplate no 
scheme of subordination of teacher or school to childish whim; but 
we do mean that any plan of educational procedure which does not 
aim consciously and insistently at securing and utilizing vigorous 
purposing on the part of the pupils is founded essentially on an in- 
effective and unfruitful basis. Nor is the quest for desirable pur- 
poses hopeless. There is no necessary conflict in kind between the 
social demands and the child's interests. Our whole fabric of insti- 
tutional life grew out of human interests. The path of the race is 
here a possible path for the individual. There is no normal boy but 
has already many socially desirable interests and is capable of many 
more. It is the special duty and opportunity of the teacher to guide 
the pupil through his present interests and achievement into the 
wider interests and achievement demanded by the wider social life 
of the older world. 

The question of moral education was implicitly raised in the 
preceding paragraph. What is the effect on morals of the plan 



THE PROJECT METHOD I3 

herein advocated? A full discussion is unfortunately impossible. 
Speaking for myself, however, I consider the possibilities for 
building moral character in a regime of purposeful activity one 
of the strongest points in its favor; and contrariwise the tendency 
toward a selfish individualism one of the strongest counts against 
our customary set-task sit-alone-at-your-own-desk procedure. 
Moral character is primarily an affair of shared social relat^nships, 
the disposition to determine one's conduct and attitucles with 
reference to the welfare of the group. This means, psychologically, 
building stimulus-response bonds such that when certain ideas are 
present as stimuli certain approved responses will follow. We are 
then concerned that children get a goodly stock of ideas to serve as 
stimuli for conduct, that they develop good judgment for selecting 
the idea appropriate in a given case, and that they have firmly built 
such response bonds as will bring — ^as inevitably as possible — the 
appropriate conduct once the proper idea has been chosen. In 
terms of this (necessarily simplified) analysis we wish such school 
procedure as will most probably result in the requisite body of 
ideas, in the needed skill in judging a moral situation, and in un- 
failing appropriate response bonds. To get these three can we con- 
ceive of a better way than by living in a social milieu which provides, 
under competent supervision, for shared coping with a variety of 
social situations? In the school procedure here advocated children 
are living together in the pursuit of a rich variety of purposes, some 
individually sought, many conjointly. As must happen in social 
commingling, occasions of moral stress will arise, but here — 
fortunately — under conditions that exclude extreme and especially 
harmful cases. Under the eye of the skillful teacher the children as 
an embryonic society will make increasingly finer discriminations 
as to what is right and proper. Ideas and judgment come thus. 
Motive and occasion arise together; the teacher has but to steer the 
process of evaluating the situation. The teacher's success — ^if we 
believe in democracy — ^will consist in gradually eliminating himself 
or herself from the success of the procedure. 

Not only do defined ideas and skill in judging come from such 
a situation, but response bonds as well. The continual sharing of 
purposes in such a school offers ideal conditions for forming the 
necessary habits of give and take. The laws of learning hold here 
as elsewhere, especially the law of Effect. If the child is to set up 



i 



14 TEACHERS COLLEGE BULLETIN 

habits of acting, satisfaction must attend the doing or annoyance 
the failure. Now there are few satisfactions so gratifying and 
few annoyances so distressing as the approval and the disapproval 
of our comrades. Anticipated approval will care for most cases; 
but the positive social disapproval of one's fellows has peculiar 
potency. When the teacher merely coerces and the other pupils 
side with their comrade, a contrary 'set' — such as we earlier dis- 
cussed — is almost inevitable, often so definite as to prevent the 
fixing in the child's character of the desired response. Conformity 
may be but outward. But when all concerned take part in decid- 
ing what is just — if the teacher act wisely — there is far less likeli- 
hood of an opposing 'set'. Somehow disapproval by those who 
understand from one's own point of view tends to dissolve an op- 
posing 'set', and one acts then more fully from his own decision. 
In such cases the desired bond is better built in one's moral char- 
acter. Conformity is not merely outward. It is necessary to 
emphasize the part the teacher plays in this group building of bonds. 
Left alone, as 'the gentleman's grade' in college indicates, pupils may 
develop habits of dawdling. Against this purposelessness the 
present thesis is especially directed; but proper ideals must be built 
up in the school group. As an ideal is but an idea joined with ten- 
dencies to act, the procedure for building has been discussed; 
but the teacher is responsible for the results. The pupils work- 
ing under his guidance must through the social experiences en- 
countered build the ideals necessary for approved social life. 
The regime of purposeful activity offers then a wider variety of 
educative moral experiences more nearly typical of life itself 
than does our usual school procedure, lends itself better to the 
educative evaluation of these, and provides better for the fixing 
of all as permanent acquisitions in the intelligent moral character. 
The question of the growth or building of interests is impor- 
tant in the theory of the plan here discussed. Many points still 
prove difficult, but some things can be said. Most obvious is the 
fact of 'maturing' (itself a difficult topic). At first an infant re- 
sponds automatically to his environment. Only later, after many 
experiences have been organized, can he, properly speaking, enter- 
tain purposes; and in this there are many gradations. Similarly^ 
the earliest steps involved in working out a 'set' are those that 
have been instinctively joined with the process. Later on, steps 



THE PROJECT METHOD 15 

may be taken by 'suggestion' (the relatively automatic working 
of acquired associations). Only comparatively late do we find 
true adaptation of means to end, the conscious choice of steps to 
the attainment of deliberately formed purposes. These considera- 
tions must qualify any statements made regarding child purposes. 
One result of the growth here discussed is the 'leading on' it affords. 
A skill acquired as end can be applied as means to new purposes. 
Skill or idea arising first in connection with means may be singled 
out for special consideration and so form new ends. This last is 
one of the most fruitful sources of new interests, particularly of 
the intellectual kind. 

In connection with this 'maturing' goes a general increase in 
the 'interest span', the length of time during which a set will 
remain active, the time within which a child will — ^if allowed — 
work at any given project. What part of this increase is due to 
nature and physical maturing, what part to nurture, why the 
span is long for some activities and short for others, how we can 
increase the span in any given cases, are questions of the greatest 
moment for the educator. It is a matter of common knowledge 
that within limits 'interests' may be built up, the correlative 
interest spans appreciably increased. Whatever else may be 
said, this must mean that stimulus-response bonds have been 
formed and this in accordance with the laws of learning. We 
have already seen the general part played by the factor of pur- 
pose in utilizing the laws of learning. There seems no reason to 
doubt that like considerations hold here. In particular the dis- 
cussion of coercion with its two opposed sets holds almost un- 
changed. Since the 'set' of external origin has its correlative goal 
and its consequent possible success, there is a theoretical possibility 
of learning. In this way we may conceive a new interest built by 
coercion. Two factors, however, greatly affect the practical utiliza- 
tion of this possibility, the one inherently to hinder, the other 
possibly to help. The inherent hindrance is the opposed (internal) 
set, which in proportion to its intensity and persistence will confuse 
the definition of success and lessen the satisfaction of attainment. 
Acquiring a new interest is in this respect accordingly doubly and 
inherently hindered by coercion. The second factor, which may act 
favorably, is the possibility that what (reduced learning) takes place 



I 
l6 TBACHBRS COLLEGE BULLETIN 

may connect with some already potentially existent interest* giving 
such expression to it that the inner opposition to the enforced ac- 
tivity is won over, and the opposing set dissolved. This second 
factor is of especial significance for the light it throws upon the 
relation of teacher and pupils in this matter of coercion. It seems 
from these considerations that if compulsion will result in such 
learning as sets free some self-continuing activity and this before 
harmful concomitants have been set up, we may approve such 
compulsion as a useful temporary device. Otherwise, so far as con- 
cerns the building of interests, the use of coercion seems a choice 
of evils with the general probabilities opposing.* 

It may be well to come closer to the customary, subject matter 
of the school. Let us consider the classification of the different 
types of projects: Tjrpe i, where the purpose is to embody some 
idea or plan in external form, as building a boat, writing a letter, 
presenting a play; type 2, where the purpose is to enjoy some 
(esthetic) experience, as listening to a story, hearing a symphony, 
appreciating a picture; t3rpe 3, where the purpose is to straighten 
out some intellectual difficulty, to solve some problem, as to 
find out whether or not dew falls, to ascertain how New York 
outgrew Philadelphia; type 4, where the purpose is to obtain 
some item or degree of skill or knowledge, as learning to write 
grade 14 on the Thomdike Scale, learning the irregular verbs 
in French. It is at once evident that these groupings more or 
less overlap and that one type may be used as means to another 
as end. It may be of interest to note that with these definitions 
the project method logically includes the problem method as a 
special case. The value of such a classification as that here given 
seems to me to lie in the light it should throw on the kind of proj- 

* "The truth is, that, having native capacity for performing certain acts and dealing with certain 
dasBes of material, we are interested in performing these acts and handling this material; and that 
once these activities are aroused, they furnish their own drive. This applies to abilities developed 
through training as well as to strictly native capacities. Almost anything may be made play and 
furnish its own motive." — ^Woodworth, Dynamic Psychology » p. aoa; see also pp. 59f»» 75f'» 102. i04i 
aootf. 

■ Coercion may be permissible as a particular exi)edient in some other instances, as when damage 
is about to be done either to others or to property or to the child himself. Clearly this is a temporanr 
device and, even in these cases, generally a choice of evils. 

There are some who needlessly confuse coercion with purposeful action in the face of difficulty* 
A certain stress of difficulty is healthy, probably necessary to wholeheartedness. Without it there 
is likely mere routine action of functions already learned. On the other hand, too great a difficulty 
means faUure often with discouragement. In between these extremes lies the most educative 
activity. 



THE PROJECT METHOD l^ 

ects teachers may expect and on the procedure that normally 
prevails in the several types. For type i the following steps have 
been suggested: purposing, planning, executing, and judging. 
It is in accord with the general theory here advocated that the 
child as far as possible take each step himself. Total failure, how- 
ever, may hurt more than assistance. The opposed dangers seem 
to be on the one hand that the child may not come out master of 
the process, on the other, that he may waste time. . The teacher 
must steer the child through these narrows, taking care meanwhile 
to avoid the other dangers previously discussed. The function of 
the purpose and the place of thinking in the process need but be 
mentioned. Attention may be called to the fourth step, that the 
child as he grows older may increasingly judge the result in terms 
of the aim and with increasing care and success draw from the 
process its lessons for the future. 

Type 2, enjoying an esthetic experience, may seem to some 
hardly to belong in the list of projects. But the factor of purpose 
undoubtedly guides the process and — I must think — ^influences 
the growth of appreciation. I have, however, as yet no definite 
procedure steps to point out. 

Type 3, that of the problem, is of all the best known, owing to 
the work of Professors Dewey and McMurry. The steps that 
have been used are those of the Dewey analysis of thought.^ The 
type lends itself, next to type 4, best of all to our ordinary school- 
room work. For this reason I have myself feared its over-emphasis. 
Our schools — ^at least in my judgment — do emphatically need a great 
increase in the social activity possible in type i. Type 4, where the 
purpose has to do with specific items of knowledge or skill, would 
seem to call for the same steps as type i, — purposing, planning, exe- 
cuting, and judging. Only here, the planning had perhaps best 
come from the psychologist. In this type also there is danger of 
over-emphasis. Some teachers indeed may not closely discriminate 
between drill as a project and a drill as a set task, although the 
results will be markedly different. 

The limits of the article forbid a discussion of other important 
aspects of the topic: the changes necessitated by this plan in 
room furniture and equipment, perhaps in school architecture, 

V Dewey, How W$ Think, Chap. VIi 



l8 TEACHERS COLLEGE BULLETIN 

the new type of text-book, the new kind of curriculum and pro— 
gram, possibly new plans of grading and promotion, most of all, 
a changed attitude as to what to wish for in the way of achieve- 
ment. Nor can we consider what this type of procedure means 
for democracy in furnishing us better citizens, alert, able to think 
and act, too intelligently critical to be easily hoodwinked either 
by politicians or by patent-medicines, self-reliant, ready of adap- 
tation to the new social conditions that impend. The question 
of difficulties would itself require a separate article: opposition 
of tradition, of taxpayers; unprepared and incompetent teachers; 
the absence of a worked-out procedure; problems of administra* 
tion and supervision. All these and more would suffice to destroy 
the movement were it not deeply grounded. 

In conclusion, then, we may say that the child is naturally 
active, especially along social lines. Heretofore a regime of coercion 
has only too often reduced our schools to aimless dawdling and our 
pupils to selfish individualists. Some in reaction have resorted to 
foolish humoring of childish whims. The contention of this paper is 
that wholehearted purposeful activity in a social situation as the 
typical unit of school procedure is the best guarantee of the utiliza- 
tion of the child's native capacities now too frequently wasted. 
Under proper guidance purpose means efficiency, not only in reach- 
ing the projected end of the activity immediately at hand, but even 
more in securing from the activity the learning which it potentially 
contains. Learning of all kinds and in its all desirable ramifications 
best proceeds in proportion as wholeheartedness of purpose is 
present. With the child naturally social and with the skillful teacher 
to stimulate and guide his purposing, we can especially expect that 
kind of learning we call character building. The necessary recon- 
struction consequent upon these considerations offers a most 
alluring 'project* to the teacher who but dares to purpose. 



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